Outside Groups May Open Door to Lifting Spending Caps
The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has stirred favorable rumblings about a campaign finance proposal once favored only by GOP lawmakers: Unlimited donations and full transparency.
Even some Democrats are starting to wonder if such a move is better than the current system, despite credible fears that lifting the donation limits would favor corporate leaders and their political cousins in the GOP.
A veteran Democratic lawmaker told me, "We might get crushed, but at least we'd have control."
Control is the key word here.
As explained so well by the New York Times on Sunday, the court ruling has paved the way for outside groups to raisehundreds of millions of dollars beyond the limits imposed upon parties and candidates. With little accountability, these groups are wading into political work once reserved for parties and candidates: Raising money, buying ads and targeting voters.
Once the back-water of American politics, these outside groups are now creating a brain drain for campaigns and parties: Some of the most talented and experienced operatives are working for these groups, answering to a few dozen wealthy donors, rather than the elected officials who run party functions.
Some elected officials are getting in the game by helping raise money. One way they do it, according to a senior GOP official who works for one of the outside groups: House Speaker "John Boehner or some other party leader will call a donor and ask for as much as he can under the law. Before hanging up, he'll say 'my associate will follow up with you." Later that day, the associate will call, only he's from one of the outside groups, and he's asking not for $1,000 but for $100,000."
Other elected officials, even some Democrats, object to the fact that they spend a majority of their time raising money, only to be outspent by outside groups. If the spending limits were lifted, and immediate transparency was required, candidates and party leaders could lean on donors for the huge checks.
Sure, there would be lawmakers who are beholden to a few big donors, rather than hundreds of small ones, but at least they'd control their message again. And the voters would know who is beholden to whom. Or at least, that's how the theory goes.